Cami clash comes as auto bucks head south to Mexico, U.S.
Four weeks into the strike at the Cami auto plant in Ingersoll, a new report paints a bleak picture of investment in Canada’s auto industry still rebounding to pre-recession levels.
With job security a key issue in the walkout at the General Motorsowned plant, and the Unifor union pushing to have it designated a lead producer for the hot-selling Chevrolet Equinox, the strike intersects directly with the loss noted in the report of industry investment to low-wage Mexico and the southern U.S.
Capital investment in the Canadian auto assembly sector since the 2008 financial crisis — which hit the industry hard — has been cut nearly in half compared with the period before the downturn, DesRosiers Automotive Consultants reported Wednesday.
Capital spending for Canada’s motor vehicle assembly industry has averaged $1.2 billion a year for 201017, the company’s report said, down from $2.3 billion a year on average from 2000-09.
Meanwhile, average new capital expenditures for the parts and accessories industry dropped to $565.9 million from $887.7 million for the same periods.
“Despite small occasional increases in the period between 2008 and 2017, there has been no sustained indication of a return to the heights recorded in the mid- to late ’90s and late 2000s,” DesRosiers said. “Canada’s loss of investment market share to Mexico and the southern U.S. over this period has been well documented.”
The 2,800 Cami workers walked out Sept. 17, seeking guarantees the plant will remain the main producer of the Equinox and seeking to prevent work moving to Mexico, where GM also produces the popular sport utility vehicle.
Asked if GM had clearly communicated whether it had rejected the union’s demand for a letter guaranteeing job security, Unifor Local 88 president Don Borthwick said Wednesday, “Ask GM.”
The company didn’t immediately respond to a Free Press request for comment. Job security became paramount after GM laid off 400 Cami workers this year as the auto giant shifted GMC Terrain production to Mexico.
At the time, the company said the shift was meant to free up space in Ingersoll to boost Equinox output, but Unifor later claimed GM was decreasing — not increasing — production.
As the two sides in the standoff headed back to the bargaining table Wednesday, Borthwick said Unifor still had no answer from the automaker on the workers’ key demand. “They have not responded,” he said.
Because of the industry’s just-intime parts delivery system, with components delivered straight to the assembly line rather than warehouses, the strike has idled many in the wider industry, a key part of Southwestern Ontario’s economy, including at auto parts makers and trucking firms.
Cami employs workers who live across the region, but the strike’s fallout is most keenly felt in nearby communities, including Ingersoll, a town of 13,000, in reduced consumer spending.
“We’re feeling the effects — whether it’s at our grocery stores or commercial outlets downtown,” Ingersoll Mayor Ted Comiskey has said.
Despite the investment decreases noted in the DesRosiers report, it said investments by truck body and trailer makers have increased on average from $52.7 million for 200009 to $82.7 million since 2010.
Securing new investments in Canada was a key goal for Unifor in negotiations with the big U.S. automakers last year. Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler all pledged to invest hundreds of millions in Canadian operations.
GM’s Cami workers are covered by a separate contract with the automaker. It’s not just job security that’s been a barrier to a new deal — the two sides reportedly also are apart on wages and benefits. It’s the first strike at Cami in 25 years.
GM has made recent investments at the Cami plant, which it views favourably, she said. The plant also makes a popular vehicle. So Dziczek never expected a strike there.